As with final exams and the big game, the start of a new year has a tendency to turn even non-believers a tad superstitious. All around the world, 1/1 is a day rife with tradition and symbolic ritual. In Japan, people clean their homes thoroughly on New Year’s Eve lest the new year’s god fail to pay them a visit. The Dutch make bonfires from their Christmas trees to expel the old and welcome the new. In Scotland, it’s considered auspicious for a tall, dark and handsome man to be the first person to enter your home after the clock strikes midnight. (Where I come from, that’s considered lucky any night of the year.)
Many of the world’s most persistent New Year’s traditions revolve around eating, with certain foods acting as symbols of the eater’s hopes and wishes for the future. Recurring themes here are foods that symbolize wealth, prosperity, forward motion, long life and other sundry nice things that might (hopefully) happen to a person in the coming year.
If you’d like to get yourself some good juju in the next 12 months, here are ten ways to eat for luck on New Year’s Day.
1. Eat twelve grapes at midnight. The Spanish and Portuguese eat twelve grapes as the clock chimes twelve times for midnight, to symbolize the twelve months of the new year. Incidentally, eating grapes this quickly is not as easy as it may sound.
2. Seek out ring-shaped food for breakfast. Consider bagels or doughnuts for breakfast (don’t you always?), which represent not only carby deliciousness, but also the year coming full circle.
3. Down some pig. Lots of people consider pork to be the luckiest of all foods to eat on New Year’s Day. Why? Pigs are rotund, which represents prosperity (not, as it turns out, weight gain). They also “root forward” with their noses, which is supposed to symbolize progress. You can choose to eat your lucky pig any which way, including ham, sausage, whole roasted suckling pig, ham hocks, bacon, pancetta…sorry, where was I?
4. Smash a pomegranate on the floor. (And waste a perfectly good piece of fruit?) In Greece, when the new year turns, a pomegranate is smashed on the floor in front of the door to break it open and reveal seeds symbolizing prosperity and good fortune. The more seeds, the more luck.
5. Roast whole fish for lunch. Fish are lucky in three ways: their scales resemble coins, they travel in schools, which represents prosperity, and they swim forward, symbolizing progress. This option has the added benefit of complying with whatever New Year’s dietary resolutions you’ve likely made.
6. Slurp soba noodles without breaking them. In Japan, long buckwheat noodles symbolize long life, and are therefore lucky—but only if you eat them without chewing or breaking them. So get your slurping technique down.
7. Nosh on greens. They resemble paper money, and who doesn’t want more money next year? Everything from cabbage to kale to your Mesclun salad mix applies here.
8.Whip up a batch of Hoppin’ John. This dish of black-eyed peas and rice is customary for New Year’s Day in the American south, where black-eyed peas are considered auspicious based on their resemblance to coins.
9. Cook some lentils. Can you guess what lentils resemble? Money! Yes, these coin-shaped legumes are lucky in Brazil and Italy, and are said to have been eaten for luck since the Roman times.
10. Bake a coin into a cake. The second Greek tradition on our list, this involves a special lemon-flavored cake called a vasilopita baked with a coin inside (again with the money!). Whoever finds the coin gets a year of good luck. That, or a chipped tooth.